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Conference on “Malaysia’s GE14: High Expectations, Heated Contests, Huge Stakes”


Wednesday, 2 May 2018 – Malaysians go to the ballot box on 9 May 2018 for the country’s 14th General Elections (GE14). In order to better understand some of the political trends and electoral dynamics in the run-up to polling day throughout the country, the Malaysia Studies Programme of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute organised a public conference on the subject. A number of ISEAS researchers shared riveting views on: campaign strategies in major states; the relationships between economic performance and election outcomes; and the potential impact of the FELDA vote.

From left to right: Dr Francis Hutchinson, Coordinator of the Malaysia Studies Programme at ISEAS and Dr Frederick Kliem, Senior Programme Manager, Regional Programme Political Dialogue Asia at Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (Credit: ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute)

Following the introductory remarks by Dr Francis Hutchinson, Coordinator of the Malaysia Studies Programme at ISEAS and Dr Frederick Kliem, Senior Programme Manager, Regional Programme Political Dialogue Asia at Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, the first set of panellists presented their research findings.

From left to right: Dr Cassey Lee, Dr Francis Hutchinson, and Dr Geoffrey Pakiam (Credit: ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute)

Dr Hutchinson moderated the first session.

Dr Cassey Lee first offered a detailed overview of the three cornered fight between BN, PH and PAS in Malaysia and then compared the array of campaign promises made by the parties. Apart from highlighting the importance of the “Malay tsunami”, Dr Lee also explained the country’s voting model at three levels: state, national and constituency. The second speaker, Dr Geoffrey Pakiam shed some light on the historical voting trends of the FELDA constituencies. He focussed on the ethnic and demographic composition of the FELDA voters and how that could translate into actual voting patterns. He ended his presentation by saying that while historically, FELDA had favoured BN, the outcomes of the upcoming election are far from certain.

After the discussion, the presenters also answered a number of questions regarding the impact of redelineation, voter turnout on election day, and the weightage of the “Mahathir factor”.

From left to right: Dr Lee Hwok Aun, Dr Norshahril Saat, and Dr Francis Hutchinson (Credit: ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute)

The second panel was chaired by Dr Norshahril Saat.

Dr Lee Hwok Aun shared interesting insights on the decisive role that Selangor could play in GE14. Specifically, he elaborated on the voting patterns across different regions, the campaign manifestos of the competing parties, and the use of gerrymandering to engineer election outcomes. Dr Francis Hutchinson then drew the audience’s attention to the election dynamics in Johor. After providing a comprehensive overview of the unique voting trends in the state, he spoke about the campaign strategies implemented by BN, PH and PAS; the reasons behind BN’s continued success there; the “Sultan factor”; and why redelineation is not a major cause of concern in Johor.

The session was followed by Q&A. The panel members responded to several questions on the relation between UMNO and Johor, the use of social media for campaigning purposes, prevalence of vote-buying practices, and the possible influence of China in GE14.

From left to right: Dr Serina Rahman, Dr Geoffrey Pakiam, and Dr Norshahril Saat (Credit: ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute)

Dr Geoffrey Pakiam was the moderator for the next panel discussion.

Dr Serina Rahman presented her findings on the sentiments of rural voters in the states of Kedah and Johor. She highlighted the rural ethnography, generational support enjoyed by UMNO, and the campaign promises being made to appeal to the various rural communities there. The next panellist, Dr Norshahril Saat shared his views on how things were shaping up in Kelantan. In addition to explaining the electoral map, the “Islamic identity” factor and the role of Mahathir Mohamad, Dr Saat also contrasted the campaign tactics being used by the political parties.

Some of the questions that were asked to the speakers were based on the impact of Anwar Ibrahim’s absence, the growing disloyalty towards UMNO in urban areas, and the appeal of new election candidates compared to familiar faces.

From left to right: Dr Lee Hock Guan, Dr Cassey Lee, and Dr Lee Poh Onn (Credit: ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute)

Dr Cassey Lee then moderated the final panel of the conference.

Dr Lee Hock Guan spoke focused on Sabah. In particular, he emphasised on the challenges facing the Warisan-Harapan coalition. He also highlighted the ethnic composition of the state and the importance of religious dynamics in determining the election outcomes. The last speaker, Dr Lee Poh Onn gave an overview of the expected voting patterns in the state of Sarawak. His presentation included a range of topics, including: historical trends, campaign promises, the state of development of Sarawak, and the importance of young voters there.

The presenters then answered questions on the role of party grassroots workers, the use of social media during the elections, and the commonness of cash-for-vote strategy.

Following all the presentations, Dr Cassey Lee delivered the closing remarks and the vote of thanks to an audience of 135 people, including scholars, students, members of the media and the public. 

The audience comprised of scholars, students, members of the media and the public (Credit: ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute)